Since I’ve become a parent, I have developed an aversion to crowded places. I was never much of a fan in the first place, but now that I have two rambunctious boys and a newborn I have no desire to be around people. Even well-meaning people only get a tight smile from me and an internal roll of the eyes. These people tend to be the ones who say things like, “you have your hands full,” and “you must be so happy to have your girl.” I do have my hands full and I am happy to have my little girl, but I’m not all that enthusiastic about talking about my daily gratitude list with strangers—especially when those strangers are talking about my kids around my kids and my kids are smart enough to understand English.
This is compounded by the fact that while my children are very well behaved (in my modest opinion) they are still children and run amok. It is much less stressful if there are fewer people around for them to run into, make silly faces at, or bother in general. So I’ve made it my mission to remember when a place is least busy. Even when I do errands on my own, or on those ever-elusive date nights, I always try to go when a place is near deserted.
If you are at all like me, then here is what I’ve experienced. My highest recommendation, though, is to stay at home, let your children yell at each other and read a book with a cup of tea.
Grocery store: Contrary to popular belief, going to the grocery store early in the morning during a weekday is NOT the best time. That’s because there are at least five other moms with three kids a piece trying to get their shopping done too. So the best time to go with the shortest lines and the fewest people is early in the morning on a weekend. Now, if you are one of the lucky people who have kids that actually sleep in on the weekend, you can ignore this advice. But, if you are like me and think 6 am is sleeping in because your kids used to wake at 5 am, then go to the grocery store at 8 am on Saturday and count it as your “alone” time.
Playground: If you go to the playground to meet other moms and children, then skip this one because that is not why I go to the playground. I mostly go so that my kids can yell, scream, run, and tackle each other without giving me heart palpitations. I have had a 50/50 split in terms of meeting other kids that I’d like my kids to be friends with and since those aren’t good enough odds for me, especially considering even the nice kids spread germs, I rather go to the playground when no one else is around. So, going to the playground around 10 am is the best time in my experience. The older kids are in school, the younger kids are napping, and the lunch crowd hasn’t come out to play yet. My kids can get a solid hour of playing in before we have to head home to eat lunch and take naps, which is exactly what the doctor recommended.
Restaurant: Normally I do not take my children out to eat unless my husband can come as well and we can make it a family outing. This is primarily because entertaining children at a table takes as many adults as can possibly be gathered, and secondly because we don’t have enough disposable income to warrant random meals out. I am one of the lucky ones in that my husband gets off work around 3:45 and is usually home by 4 pm. This means we have the good fortune to eat dinner around 5. The best time to head to a restaurant is 4:30 pm on a weekday. Other than a few elderly people, restaurants tend to be deserted at this time. If you don’t have the luxury of hitting a restaurant that early on a weekday, then I suggest doing breakfast at 8:30 am on Sunday. Most people are at church or asleep so even the most popular breakfast places have open tables at that time. If you are one of the church goers, then 8:30 on a Saturday will also work.
Post Office: Just so long as you avoid lunch hours and after work hours, you can go to the post office almost anytime and avoid long lines. I highly recommend the self-service kiosk, and since you can now get stamps almost anywhere, including Costco, there’s not much of a reason to go to the Post Office unless it’s to mail a package, which you can do at the self-service kiosk. The exception is always the holiday season, in which case you are better ordering your presents online and letting the retailer ship it to wherever it needs to go.
Bank: There is never a good time to go into a bank. I am not kidding. I’ve gone in at different hours and even if there is no line, there are no tellers and so it still takes 20 minutes to do even the simplest of tasks. Online banking is the way to go. With online bill pay, automatic deposit, and mobile banking, there is no reason to go into the bank unless you need to… well actually I can’t think of a single thing you need to go into a branch for since a few months I set up an electronic wire transfer to close escrow on the home we were buying. That sealed the deal that I am never going into a bank again unless I am being held at gunpoint.
Costco: There is also never a good time to go to Costco unless you can get there right when it opens on a weekday. The weekends are always a mad house and people are the worst, inconsiderate drivers in the parking lots of Costco and Trader Joes (don’t ask me why). I’ve gone a few times at 9 am for the tire center and have noticed that it’s not too busy at 10 am when the shopping area opens, but since I usually need my husband’s help carrying the 40 lbs of dog food we need to buy, that’s not doable for me. So we just grit our teeth and go during the weekend and no matter what time we go, it’s always busy. I’ve read that some people have given up Costco and Sam’s Club to order bulk items online now, but we haven’t found a better deal on tires or dog food yet. If you’ve got recommendations, please, please share.
Amusement Park: Having lived in Southern California for a over a decade I know how crazy places like Disneyland and Universal Studios can get on a weekend. While my kids are young and we can’t implement this advice, the lines are always shorter if you go to the theme parks after 4 or 5 pm. Most families with young kids, like mine, are totally fried from a long day at the park and are heading home to put the little ones to bed. So if your kids are older, you can get a baby sitter, or have night owls, BEGIN your adventure late in the afternoon. In the summer the parks generally stay open pretty late, and then you can catch the night/light shows, which are usually beautiful.
Have you found my experiences to be consistent with yours? Are there any other places that you need to go where you’d like to avoid crowds and tips for navigating those places?